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Elvis 101
by Beth Boswell Jacks

“Elvis [was] the greatest cultural force in the
twentieth century. He introduced the beat to everything,
music, language, clothes--a whole new social revolution."
-- Leonard Bernstein

Grandparents with panache aplenty understand that it is no longer enough to teach the little ones to bake sugar cookies, hook a bream, or play “Baby Bye” on the piano. No, in today’s dizzying world, we elders have the huge responsibility of making sure our grandchildren are exposed to activities that will enrich their lives forever. That’s why I found myself at Graceland in Memphis recently with Meredith, my 8 year old granddaughter.

We were making memories for her to take home and store away for the day when she’d tell her own granddaughter, “Listen, kid, my grandmother gave me all sorts of educational opportunities . . .”

On the blistering, ninety degree day we made our pilgrimage, Meredith and I were two among many--I’m talking lots and lots and lots of humanity with throw-away cameras.

So, we were sitting on a bench at the grandiose Graceland Tourist Center, home of one hundred rockin’ souvenir shops, watching throngs of Elvis Presley fans stuff themselves with mustard soaked hot dogs as they shuffled along in endless lines to catch the shuttle to the mansion.

We’d already inched through the Lisa Marie (Elvis’s airplane), admiring the 24 karat gold-plated lavatories and plastic covered couches. We’d bumped our way through the crowded “King of Rock ‘n Roll” museum that leads (surprise!) into yet another glittering souvenir shop. We’d enjoyed the coolness of the darkened motorcycle and car display where Meredith oohed and sighed over the pink striped jeep and I gazed longingly at the Rolls. We’d swayed to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and bounced our boo-tays to “Hound Dog” as we strolled the shopping mall.

We were Elvis saturated and satiated.

So anyway, we’d collapsed there on a bench outside one of the souvenir shops, and Meredith said, groaning, “Bebe, I think I don’t want any more Elvis.”

I was happy to hear it. Hot as a tater, my hunka hunka burnin’ flesh was anxious to head south.

But now Meredith could go home with pictures (Boy, did we snap!) and she could impress friends with her newly acquired knowledge.

On the way home, she stuck a piece of Berry Splash Kooler gum in her mouth and, in between chews, said, “Bebe, I didn’t know . . . Elvis was . . . so important.”

Here was my chance to give the child an added dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll 101.

“Honey,” I said, “Elvis Presley completely changed the world of popular music.”

Predictably, she said, “Huh?” and I took that as an opportunity to lecture further.

“Yeah, listen,” I said, “Elvis sold over one billion records worldwide, more than anyone in record industry history. He had gold and platinum records and 14 Grammy nominations. Say ‘Elvis’ anywhere in the world and folks know who you’re talking about.”

She yawned, and I decided I needed to dig down for something more impressive.

“You know what?” I said to my smart, red-headed granddaughter. “When Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in January of 1957, a bunch of my friends came to my house to watch him. This was a big deal. It’s unbelievable now, but the Sullivan directors would only show Elvis from the waist up because they said he shook his hips too much when he sang. Historians say this was one of television history’s most memorable moments. And I saw it!”

She asked, “So Elvis could have been president?” And I knew my history lesson was sinking in.

“Maybe,” I said. “I mean, this man’s been dead since 1977, and over 600,000 folks still visit Graceland every year. Amazing.”

I’m really impressing her now, I thought. This is information she’ll remember always. A cultural bonanza.

About that time the car cell phone rang. It was her mama.

“Meredith,” I whispered as she began to chat, “tell Mama what you learned today.”

“Guess what, Mama!” she said, “You’re not going to believe this . . . Elvis died on the potty!”

I blinked. Guess there are just some historical facts more impressive than others.


Beth Boswell Jacks, editor of USADEEPSOUTH.COM, is the author of Grit, Guts, and Baseball, a book about sports and race relations in the Mississippi Delta. Her two books of SNIPPETS are collections of her newspaper columns. She is a freelance columnist for a number of Deep South newspapers, and her humorous verse has been published in children’s magazines.

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